All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doer is a book I’ve been hearing about for ages that everyone raves about. So when I saw it in a second-hand bookstore recently, I just had to grab it. My expectations were huge going in to read this book and I have to say that it mostly lived up to all the hype.
Set during World War II it tells the story of a young, blind French girl named Marie-Laure who must navigate war-torn France and all its dangers without being able to see them. Her father works at the Museum of Natural History in Paris and helps Marie-Laure find her way around by carving a replica of the city streets for her to memorise. Then there is Werner, a remarkably gifted German orphan whose talents are recognised and utilised by the Hitler Youth. He can build and repair radios and has a thirst for learning. They are on different sides of a conflict which will have a deep personal cost for them both.
It’s a relatively simple story told mostly from Marie-Laure and Werner’s points-of-view, starting before the war and finishing after. The story weaves together a cursed diamond, a Nazi jewel hunter, the natural world, the wonders of the radio, the French resistance, family, the brutality of war, disability and loss.
The writing is stunning and I can see why Anthony Doerr won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction for this novel. The language is just beautiful and more than anything the writing is what I loved most about this novel. Its short chapters (sometimes only a couple of pages long) is something that I usually see in a thriller, not historical fiction, and this distracted me sometimes as it cut from character to character.
The book was a bit slow for me at first but then got better and better as it went along. This was very much a piece of finely crafted literature. I felt like I was reading a book which will one day be referred to as a classic–it’s probably already treated that way. I can see why it took the author ten years to write this. I’m sure he agonised over every single sentence. Such as: “The Pyrenees gleam. A pitted moon stands on their crests as if impaled.”
As much as I enjoyed this book, I liked The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah better. Also set in France during World War II, I connected more with the characters in this book than I did with the characters in All the Light We Cannot See. I think that sometimes I struggle with prize winning fiction because often they are more about the method of writing than the actual story. I could see the author’s hand in everything and for me that got in the way of the story and truly feeling for the characters. But as a feat of literary achievement, All the Light We Cannot See is truly magnificent.
Verdict: Read this stunning historical fiction read if you want to see what all the fuss is about.
Have you read All the Light We Cannot See? What did you think ?